Why are there always facilities filled with puzzles and tests? Between Amnesia, Portal, Mondo Medicals, The Talos Principle, Quantum Conundrum, Tiny Brains, and all the rest how many puzzle filled testing facilities are there? Not to say that Antichamber is exactly like those games but it’s a weird trope that keeps popping up. You’re a faceless operativ, test subject, or something who’s got to solve strange time and space bending puzzles as they attempt to find the center of, or escape — maybe both, the Antichamber.
Antichamber was developed by Alexander Bruce and it was a tumultuous creation. Not tumultuous in terms of risk of being shut down or running our of money or something. Lemme put it this way, Antichamber’s development started in 2006 as an arena combat game. It gradually shifted and morphed over time into a single player puzzle game. One of the things that really inspired Bruce to make the change from combat to puzzles was a simple coding error that resulted in impossible geometries.
Antichamber was released on January 31st, 2013. It’s competition was DMC: Devil May Cry (XBox 360, PS3, and PC), Dead Space 3 (PS3, PC, and XBox 360), and Aliens: Colonial Marines (PS3, PC, and XBox 360).
Antichamber is a trip, like a straight up drug trip. It’s filled with impossible spaces, bizarre objects, and mind bending puzzles and trials. Unfortunately this creates a situation where getting from A to B is mind boggling and can be incredibly frustrating. Combine that with the game’s two hour time limit and it engenders a lot of stress about getting to the right place at the right time. Another interesting thing about Antichamber lies within the design of most puzzle games. In most games as the player gains access to more verbs and more ways to interact with the puzzle space the game gets more difficult but instead Antichamber becomes more simple as the player’s ability to change their surroundings grows.
Antichamber is a puzzle game that likes messing with the player’s head and revealing more mechanics than meets the eye. The puzzles start off by teaching the player simply how to navigate the bizarre and non-Euclidian space of the Antichamber. At any time they can hit escape and go back to the main room which allows them to teleport to any room or puzzle they have already solved — paradoxically, the player gets the puzzle’s hint after they solve it. Unfortunately I made the mistake of assuming that the map was actually useful, that its paths were truly representative of what the map was like — and it is. But because the paths are geometrically impossible the map is less than useful — the teleport function is incredibly handy though.
Eventually the player finds a gun like tool that can capture and deploy certain blocks in the environment. These blocks can trigger switches and make good building tools. Then another tool that can capture and deploy blocks very quickly. Then another that can beckon blocks and all blocks connected to that one. And then a final tool that can eat blocks and then spawn nearly infinite blocks radiating from one. I only bring these powers up because I found myself frustrated by not knowing whether I had the tools necessary to complete a certain puzzle. The game attempts to make this clear by color coding the blocks and tool as if to say, ‘do you see red blocks but you haven’t gotten the red tool? Then you can’t handle it yet’. But I was able to solve a puzzle with blocks of a tool I hadn’t gotten yet, and when I did that once I figured the sky was the limit and then later realized my cunning success had simply been a fluke.
This game has got impressive visuals. The visual style aside, the things in the game simply look strange. The lighting also gives everything around it an otherworldly air. Any time those colors lights were around my eyes were peeled for secrets or something strange coming up.
The ambient music and noise serves both as a calming agent that kept me from losing my shit in some of the more frustrating moments and as the occasional clue to puzzles. Certain areas have certain music so if the music changed, I knew that whatever I had done had triggered a teleportation effect, for instance.
There’s no narration, there’s often no clear indication of whether something is helping or not, it’s the player teaching themself about the rules of the world. And that’s all well and good but then we get to this thing.
This bizarre black floating series of shifting cubes emits whispering murmurs and floats around ominously near new tools. I was under the impression that it was something that was menacing and was meant to be avoided. Apparently it’s supposed to intrigue the player because reaching it serves as the overarching goal. I just feel like it gives off bad vibes.
There are a few puzzles that I got stuck on and would not have been able to complete if I hadn’t looked up the solution. Most of them involved situations regarding things I didn’t even know the world was capable of. Bizarre tricks and peculiarities of the game’s rules that are neither obvious nor intuitive.
I got a little frustrated with it at times, but some of that’s me being bad at puzzle games and some of it’s genuine difficulty in learning certain bizarre tricks.. As such I would recommend Antichamber to anyone who knows what non-Euclidean geometry is and loves to warp their brain. I hate to say it and I don’t want to pull hourage but I got three and a half hours of fun — and thirty minutes of pure frustration — out of Antichamber and with a $20 price tag it’s a little steep for my tastes. With Portal 1 sitting at $10 and Portal 2 at $20 I feel like it would be most satisfying to pick up Antichamber at $15 when — and it will — goes on sale next.
Next Week: Super Meat Boy